Monthly Archives: February 2012

“Good” and “Bad” Traffic Congestion

By Dom Nozzi

Recently, a colleague of mine pointed out that it is common for a town center to have traffic congestion, and that this was acceptable in part because congestion can make walking more safe, or improve the desirability of transit. This is, for him, an example of “good” congestion.”

I responded by indicating that I fully agreed. After all, low-cost, convenient car travel is incompatible with a quality, lovable walking ambience, largely due to the enormous space consumed by cars (that are convenienced by having an excessive amount of space devoted to cars), and the high speeds achieved by motor vehicles (when we design for the convenience of motorists).

I pointed out to him that I believe an essential task for those seeking a more sustainable and quality community is to find a way to build a community awareness that if we are to have a more pleasant community design for PEOPLE, cars must be inconvenienced and more costly to use. Higher residential densities (in town centers), higher gas costs, higher parking costs, and priced roadways are things that will effectively bring about that awareness, and are rather likely in our future due to emerging financial, environmental and energy issues. I believe those emerging trends are inevitable, but hope we can accelerate their emergence through political and rhetorical means.

The faster we take corrective measures, the less painful our future will be.

My colleague also pointed out that there is, on the other hand, “bad” car congestion. For him, that would be the type of congestion that provides no benefits (other than making transit more desirable), and is located in a place where people do not want to be (e.g., the middle of an Interstate highway).

It had not occurred to me, until he mentioned this, that the LOCATION of the congestion is one way to distinguish between “good” and “bad” congestion.

However, one reason I tend to find that congestion is ALWAYS good is that even in a suburban setting where there are no alternatives available to escape the congestion (for example, alternatives such as living closer to work/shop, using transit, riding a bike, walking, etc.), and there is no compensation for the travel delays one experiences in suburban congestion (such as a charming, vibrant, walkable ambience), I would say that even suburban congestion is, on balance, a good thing.

The increased aggravation and the uncompensated nature of suburban congestion, in my view, creates the political motivation that is otherwise lacking in suburban settings to take corrective measures (such as creating suburban town centers with compact, mixed-use development, pricing roads and parking, and creating infill development in places such as unused parking lots…). In other words, congestion accelerates the inevitable redesign of suburbia towards something more sustainable. The danger, of course, is that these progressive reactions can be short-circuited by road-widening as the all-too-common congestion fix. Fortunately, financial woes at all levels of government make counter-productive widening much less likely.

So yes, I told him, I agree that initially, suburban congestion is more unpleasant (“bad”) than town center congestion, but I view the congestion as a bitter medicine that must be swallowed for suburbia to speed up their healing process.

A growing number of communities engage in “planned congestion,” where they deliberately do nothing to address congestion – knowing that the inevitable, positive results of congestion I list above will eventually emerge.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Should We Subsidize Low-Income People Who Live in the Suburbs?

By Dom Nozzi

In my (cold-hearted?) view, the suburbs are inherently unsustainable and unaffordable. From a public policy point of view, if I’m an elected official, I don’t see how I can justify subsidizing people who live in places that are unsustainable, unaffordable, and inefficient to maintain. Even if those people are low-income. Anyone who lives in the burbs – including low-income people – must accept the consequences of living there. There is nothing remotely fair or sensible about folks who live in sustainable, low-impact, financially efficient locations subsidizing those who live in the financially inefficient, high-impact burbs (and who lower the quality of life of town center residents with all their car driving). Nevertheless, I have often pointed out that while it is tempting, I don’t think we should prohibit – by law – people living in the burbs. But if someone wants to live there, they will, as a simple matter of fairness, do it on their own nickel and keep their hands off my bank account. I see no reason why I should subsidize people – including low-income people – who opted for a lifestyle that requires them to live in the burbs. [As an aside, I believe bleeding hearts too often believe “less fortunate” people are forced to be in the life situation they are in. I very rarely think that a person is forced to be where they are – speaking as someone who grew up in a large, lower-middle-class household and who busted his butt to be where he is. I have many, many friends and family members who CHOSE to be where they are by opting to have a number of kids, opting to own and drive a (often expensive, new) car and/or by opting to party and watch TV rather than reading or otherwise doing the work that it takes to become educated or obtain an advanced degree.] The sooner the burbs (which, in the long run, is inevitable) whither away and are bulldozed, the better off we will all be. Subsidizing people – including low-income people – who live in the burbs simply puts off the day when we see the absolutely necessary, eventual disappearance of single-use burbs that cannot exist without cheap gas, cheap parking, free roads, and cheap cars. What we “owe” low-income people is a regulatory and price system that makes it more possible for developers to provide more affordable housing options in places that provide transportation choices. We should, for example, more commonly legalize “granny flats,” higher residential densities, sweat equity construction that is exempt from many building codes, smaller lot sizes, and mixing residences with retail/office/industrial. We also “owe” low-income people more banks who will give them location-efficient home mortgages. I am not convinced that low-income people are financially forced to live in places in single-use (residential only) areas without transportation choices. People such as Todd Litman (http://www.vtpi.org/) have shown that “lower-cost” housing in the burbs is a false economy. That the several thousand dollars a household saves by owning, say, 2 cars instead of 3, or one car instead of 2, is money that can instead be directed to paying rent or mortgage in a mixed use, compact location. I think that in America, our media overwhelmingly touts the joy and peacefulness and safety of the burbs. My mother (and most or all of my siblings), for example, would NEVER live in a town center because she is TERRIFIED of what she believes are VERY high crime rates in town centers (my telling her that lots of information shows she is safer there than in the burbs doesn’t convince her in the least). Instead, she has opted to live in the burbs, where it is impossible to travel without a car. No one forced her to live there. Why should my taxes be higher so that irrational fears can be provided for and to enable a lifestyle that has no future? I believe that huge majorities of lower-income and immigrant populations have bought into the American Dream of the drivable suburbs. They live in the suburbs not so much because that is the only place they can afford to live, but because EVERYTHING they have been taught screams to them that the burbs are safer, quieter, cheaper, more convenient, and more pleasant than town centers. I think there are a lot of affordable town center housing options that are not opted for by people such as my mother because of their buying the American Dream, not because there are no affordable options. By the way, no one forced an immigrant to move to America. Most immigrants come to the US with stars in their eyes about how American streets are paved with gold (as my mother thought). I would NEVER, EVER expect citizens in, say, Denmark to pay higher taxes so that I could live in Copenhagen by buying an “affordable” home in the burbs of Copenhagen. If I could not afford a town center home in Copenhagen, I would not give a moment of thought to moving to Copenhagen. Moving to Copenhagen under the above circumstances is selfish and wrong in a great many ways. Where is the sense in creating band-aid fixes in the burbs when we know the burbs have no future? _________________________________________________ Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life. Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com 50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290 My Adventures blog http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/ Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/ My Town & Transportation Planning website http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/ My Plan B blog https://domz60.wordpress.com/ My Facebook profile http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi My YouTube video library http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi My Picasa Photo library https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534 My Author spotlight http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia

Happy People or Happy Cars?

By Dom Nozzi

Roads have a profound influence over the quality of life of our neighborhoods and our overall community. The design of roads has a significant influence over how much speeding traffic is found on the road. How many crashes occur. How dependent we are on cars for travel (and conversely, how unlikely it is that we can travel by foot, by bicycle or by transit). How much noise pollution is found in our community (cars are, by far, the major source of noise pollution). How comfortable people feel when they go for a walk. How proud (or embarrassed) people are by their community. How expensive transportation tends to be in the community (the more car dependence, the more unaffordable transportation becomes). How far flung various important community institutions are from each other (the more car dependence, the more inconveniently dispersed these places are for us). How much our community resembles a lunar asphalt landscape due to the prevalence of parking lots and wide roads. In sum, there may be no facilities built in our communities which has a more direct and significant influence over how much we admire (or despise) our community than roads and parking lots. The great tragedy is this: Traffic engineers – the professionals we hire to design our roads – are trained to be expert specialists in road and parking lot design, but have very little – if any – training or knowledge about the urban design needed to create public spaces that people love and feel comfortable living in. Yet because road and parking lot design are the lynchpins for community quality of life, the designers of roads and parking play the key role in shaping community quality of life. It is therefore traffic engineers, not planners or even architects, who are the main shapers of whether a community is designed well or not. And the traffic engineer, it goes without saying, is not up to the job of designing all of the complex ingredients needed to create a quality community. For the traffic engineer, much of their schooling, nearly all of what they are asked to do by supervisors and elected officials, and much of their road design manuals have but one, specialized design objective: Maximizing car speeds and maximizing the number of cars that can be driven and parked in the community. The schooling and design manuals of the traffic engineer say absolutely nothing about how to build and dimension streets or a parking lots (or buildings) so that people feel happy, safe, comfortable or proud. The traffic engineer is a specialized genius when it comes to designing a road or a parking lot. But the typical engineer is a moron when it comes to designing spaces that make people feel wonderful. Because cars consume so much space, traffic engineers (and town planners) in a car-dependent society almost exclusively design streets, parking lots and building setbacks that are excessive in size. Our cities, as a result, are being ruined by the disease of GIGANTISM. Consequently, our communities are utterly dominated by roads and parking lots. By spaces that are oversized, rather than a charming, lovable human (relatively small) scale. And this utterly dominant, almost omnipresent car infrastructure is designed by those who only know how to make cars happy. By people who have no training or manuals that instruct them about designing for happy people. No supervisors or elected officials requesting that they design for places that make people feel comfortable or pleasant. Instead, traffic engineers are only asked — and largely schooled — to design for places to make cars comfortable. Therefore, Americans have, since the emergence of the car a century ago, been designing communities that are almost entirely unlovable and which destroy civic pride. Most American cities now exemplify what Jane Holtz Kay accurately describes as an Asphalt Nation. It is no coincidence that the places we love best are those places designed over 100 years ago, before cars came on the scene. The car is truly the enemy of the city. And the enemy of a world we can love. What is to be done? First and foremost, we must hire and elect supervisors and elected officials who will request that traffic engineers design to make people comfortable, and make secondary what is needed to make cars comfortable. Our society needs to start moving away from the academic and professional imperative of training people to be specialists. Traffic engineers must be given substantial training in designing not just for happy cars, but also for happy people. And rule number one for community design that promotes comfortable people and civic pride is keeping street, parking lot and building setback sizes small. Sizes that are human-scaled, not car-scaled. At the same time, it is essential to engage in those tactics which are effective in reducing car dependence, because even if we have generalist rather than specialist traffic engineers who know how to design for both happy people and happy cars, if car travel is obligatory by a world that makes bicycling, walking and transit impractical, even generalists will be forced to design for comfortable car travel. And comfortable car travel is so entirely incompatible with a world conducive to a lovable community that even the most well-rounded engineer is likely to be obligated to make car-happy choices when designing roads and parking, at the expense of people. And because providing for car travel is almost always a zero-sum game, the more an engineer – even a well-rounded engineer — provides for ease of car travel, the worse life becomes for those on foot, on bicycle and on transit. And the worse becomes our overall community quality of life. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, this is not a call to “get rid of all cars,” but instead a call for enacting strategies that significantly reduce our need for a car. To build a community where the car is a (rare) choice, and not a requirement. A call for making people happy first, not cars. The first and most important step in restoring community quality of life is training traffic engineers to be generalists who are well-versed in human-centered (not car-centered) urban design. That is, designing for streets, parking lots, and buildings that are activated for pedestrian comfort and enjoyment. The next most important step is having supervisors and elected officials giving traffic engineers the permission to design for happy people, rather than happy cars. After all, as Enrique Penalosa once said, a community can design for happy people, or happy cars. But it cannot design for both. _________________________________________________ Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life. Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com 50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290 My Adventures blog http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/ Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/ My Town & Transportation Planning website http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/ My Plan B blog https://domz60.wordpress.com/ My Facebook profile http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi My YouTube video library http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi My Picasa Photo library https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534 My Author spotlight http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Trapped by the Mess We Created

By Dom Nozzi

Americans are trapped in an enormous dilemma. Much of our world is designed so that it is impossible to travel without a car. Yet convenient, easy, low-cost car travel is not conducive to creating safe, lovable, human-oriented, sustainable, enjoyable places that induce civic pride (indeed, car dependency is utterly destructive of a better place to live).

Those of us who have discovered this are stuck with the gargantuan task of trying to point out that the path to a better community – to a better future – lies in doing something that at least initially, seems supremely harmful to our happiness: inconveniencing car travel and car parking (and making car use more costly).

How do we make the following message resonate?…

“You have one way to travel, and we propose to improve your community by making that form of travel more difficult and expensive.”

This is, of course, not what we actually say, but what we say is generally translated by many to amount to this.

Perhaps we are the modern-day equivalent of those who pointed out that blood-letting was HARMFUL to a person’s life…

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking